My quit list!

Ok, before I get into today’s post, I am totally going to blow your minds. Hold on to your horses, tighten your belt buckles, and strap yourself in….I….am….in…two…places…at…ONCE!!

Can you believe it?!?!? I know…me either! Only in the blogosphere can a person be in two places at once.

So, you can hang out here, read my uberliciously wonderful post on my quit list, fire me off a comment (cause I know you are just dying to share your thoughts) and then head RIGHT ON over to my best blog buddy’s digs, Barbara McDowell to read a guest post (her first guest post I might add…eeekeee) by yours truly! That’s right. I am over there today talking about my experience venturing into writing fiction and how I use music to inspire greatness! FUN!!!

Let’s get to it.

Isn’t it remarkable how when you start to shift into a new realm, the universe sends you things to affirm your decision? Sometimes in the form of an expected conversation where you have an “aha” moments. Sometimes a commercial on TV that drives a point home. Or maybe in the form of fahbulous blog posts.

Most of you know that I’ve been making writing a bigger priority in my life for a while now. In July 2010, I started this blog as a way of bringing writing back into my life. For about a year, I posted on average once or twice a week (around 1000 words a week). Given that I hadn’t really written much in 10 years, this was a huge boost in creative writing productivity for me.

In October 2011, I stepped it up again. I took Kristen Lamb’s blogging to build a brand course and started posting 5 days a week (about 3000 words a week), another huge jump! I also joined ROW80 and embarked on plotting my first novel.

Each of these steps was instrumental in my saying to the universe that writing is a priority for me. And each has been wonderful and fantastic. I’ve been blown away by all I’ve accomplished and the writing movement that’s taken place within me. But as 2012 approached, I recognized that if I want to make fiction writing (writing outside of blogging) a priority, I was going to have to find a way to increase my productivity yet again.

That’s when the universe, in all its wisdom, sent me two blog posts that were exactly what I needed to hear. They were like a huge affirmation that I am on the right path and they provided me with the tools to move forward.

First, I came across Jane Friedman’s post on the Secret to Finding the Time to Write, Market, Promote, and Still Have a Life. In it, she outlined 5 key strategies to boosting productivity. She also pointed to another article by Clay Collins on Quitting Things and Flakiness: The #1 Productivity Anti-Hack.

The posts gave me great ideas I could implement to ramp up my writing productivity like hiring a cleaning person (hubby said he’s game) and stop watching so much TV. But for me, the biggest one was to let go of guilt and…more specifically unwanted commitments. This is the biggest struggle for me and it was like the universe was clearly sending me a message that it was time to start putting my passion first in my life.

Clay wrote in his post “Unwanted commitments seem to beget more unwanted commitments. They’re like lies: they multiply fast.

Hilarious and so utterly true. I feel like when I agree to one commitment that I’d rather not do, another one follows shortly after and because I did unwanted commitment 1, I somehow feel obligated to do unwanted commitment 2. To be “fair”!?!?! I don’t know.

Clay’s suggestion is de-simplification. Of course there are those tasks that I might rather not do but they are a real obligation. Then there are those task that the obligation is simply a matter of perspective. Clay points out that my biggest issue is probably that I haven’t been differentiating between very real non-negotiables and fictional non-negotiables. All too often I get wrapped up in the “should” of the moment.

  • I should go to that get-together.
  • I should sign-up for that committee.
  • I should attend that birthday party.
  • I should go to that event.
  • I should help this friend with that thing.

I need to start analyzing every request to ensure they are true non-negotiables or things I really want to do (over writing) before I say yes in order to start removing the unwanted things from my life. That means saying “no” more often. And it means likely disappointing a few people…and being ok with it!

So, for 2012 I’ve come up with a little “quit” list for myself:

  • Quit saying yes to an invite if your first instinct is to groan when it comes in.
  • Quit worrying how disappointed a person will be if you say no to their request. It doesn’t matter!
  • Quit blindly saying “yes” to all family event invitations. Evaluate which are most important to you and say yes to those…and no to the others.
  • Quit worrying about being a bad friend, bad daughter, bad aunt, bad employee, and overall bad person if you say no more often.
  • Quit worrying about losing friends/family. If they walk out on you because you are trying to live your best life, they weren’t really a friend to begin with.
  • If you feel like you “should” do something (but deep down don’t want to), say no out of principle alone.
  • Say “no” to requests more often. You can always change your mind after the fact if you realize it’s something you’d really like to do.

So far, so good. Last week I received a request to join a fundraising committee for an absolutely fantastic community event. I would have had a blast on the committee, it’s for a great cause, and it would have resulted in amazing networking for my career. It would have also meant a fair amount of evening and weekend time. I thought about it for a few days and responded declining the opportunity. I was very proud of myself. It was hard, but I did what I knew was right for me.

In the end, I know it’s not really about productivity. It’s about making sure that I am spending more time doing the things I love and living a more authentic and passionate life.

What’s your quit list for 2012? How do you make your passion a priority? How do you manage the “shoulds” in your life?

If you enjoyed this post, check out more blog deliciousness here:

  • Wonderful post by Elena Aitken on how we must respect ALL Mom’s; whether they are working moms or stay-at-home moms.
  • I read a poignant and touching post by Amber West that reminded me to stay focused and centered on the most important things in life.
  • August McLaughlin is kicking the new year off right by bringing us lifesaving resolutions and her fist installment on mindful driving hit the nail on the head with fantastic tips to stay alert when behind the wheel. Her second installment on dodging diets rocked and her third on laying off the toxic waste (like smoking) came out yesterday. Fantastic stuff!
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As a former pageant queen, I lost my crown but I found myself

Tonight marks the 60th annual Miss Universe pageant (airing on NBC – check your local listings). Eeeekee…I LOVE pageants!

Each year I curl up on the couch with a bowl of hot popcorn and watch the Miss Universe pageant admiring the dresses and the glamour. I sit with my pad and pen tallying up my own scores while making bold predictions for who will win and who will place. Even hubby joins in on the fun (he is such a good sport). Tonight’s pageant will air live from São Paulo, Brazil with contestants from more than 80 countries participating.

I know there can be a lot of controversy surrounding “beauty” pageants but I I love them. I respect those women. When you read their bios and see their accomplishments, you quickly realize that pageant women are some of the most incredibly talented, educated, and empowered women doing amazing things in communities around the world.

Unfortunately, growing up I was a notorious bad-ass with a reputation to uphold so I felt unable to take part in any of the small-town pageants we had. But I always watched from the side-lines with envy as the popular girls got to have all the fun.

After I got married the first time, I stumbled across the Mrs. Canada International pageant*, a pageant system for married women. NO SHIT!?!

As a platform pageant system, all participants were required to have a cause or issue they promoted within their community, such as breast cancer awareness. At the pageant, half of the overall score was based on a 20-minute interview that was centered on community involvement. The other half of the score was divided equally between an on-stage fitness (instead of the swimsuit) and evening gown competition. The top ten then competed in an on-stage question, which was factored into the overall score to determine the winner. As well as many wonderful prizes, the winner was given the opportunity to promote her platform nationwide and compete in the Mrs. International pageant in the US.

I was SOLD. This was my chance to fulfill a secret lifelong dream to become a pageant queen. Fame, fortune and world domination to follow!

Because this Canadian pageant system was relatively new and small, participants became city title holders through a mail-in application. I won as my city title holder two years in a row and competed nationally both years. My platform for both years was “self-esteem: what you believe, you can achieve.

The first year, I didn’t even place in the top ten. Boo!

I didn’t let it get me down. I was determined to win the big crown! The first year, I learned a lot and it motivated me to try again.

The second year, I placed first-runner up. 

Wow, not bad, eh?! I was the person that if reigning Mrs. Canada wasn’t able to fulfill her duties, I’d get to step in. Although I loved the woman who won, I am not ashamed to admit that deep down I prayed for an injury that’d take her out of the running but that she’d recover from 100%…I am a terrible person…I know!

Anyway…don’t get too excited. In the end, it turned out it was a good thing I didn’t win. Half way through my reign that year, I lost my crown when I filed for divorce. Funny, they don’t like women in the midst of a divorce representing their married women’s pageant. Tight-asses. Oops.

So I didn’t win….not once, but twice…and I lost my crown…and I fell from pageant glory…and I was slightly humiliated over the whole thing.

But here’s what I did learn.

  • I learned that pageant women are some of the best, brightest, and most dedicated and determined women out there. They are doing phenomenal things in our communities for the love of giving back. I am still close friends with some of these incredible women today.
  • I learned that going after your dreams, at any age or stage in life, is worth it. No matter the cost, effort, or “is she crazy???” looks you get from family and friends.
  • I learned that self-esteem and self-confidence is something you can gain at any time in life; that you build it within yourself one step at a time by doing things that fill you with pride.
  • I learned how to rely on myself by stepping outside my comfort zone and doing something totally on my own (knowing most of my friends and family thought I was totally insane).
  • Speaking of friends and family thinking I went nutty, I learned how to care less about what others think; to stand on my own two feet and let the judgments of others fall to the ground.
  • I learned to tune out fears, insecurities and self doubts so that I could follow my own heart.

Pageantry gave me wings to fly after my dreams.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, these were steps that lead me closer to myself and further away from my marriage. These were vital lessons I needed to learn in order gain the inner strength to put a voice to my own needs and make tough decisions for the sake of my own happiness and self-esteem.

And hell…you all KNOW I looked fantastic in a crown!

What experiences in your life have built you up and made you stronger? When have you laughed in the face of conformity to do something totally outside your comfort zone?

 

*At the time I was involved in the Mrs. Canada International pageant system there was an actual pageant to determine the national titleholder. I am not sure what the format is now.

Body language…is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Ever meet someone who gives you a weird vibe or perception right off the bat just from the way they shake your hand or from the manner in which they stand? Maybe they instantly put you off and give you the sense that they are weak or arrogant? Or lying? Or are uber fabulous?

This weekend, a friend of mine was telling me about an encounter with a guy she’s had a crush on for years. A fireman…he’s hot, sexy, tall, sculpted, delicious and a great guy to boot. He’s also married. She said that while they were catching up, he was continuously twirling his wedding ring and that caught her attention. To her, his body language was sending signals that she read as “I might be married but I am available and interested.”

That got me thinking, what messages does my body language give off? Do I play with my wedding rings when talking to people? If I do, do people think this means I am unhappily married? Because nothing could be further from the truth.

Wikipedia defines body language as a form of non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements and we send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously. A variety of research estimates that anywhere between 60 to 93 percent of all meaning is derived from our body language.

Yikes. That’s pretty steep. It makes me more self-conscious as to what kind of subtle messages I might be unintentionally putting out to the world without even really realizing it. According to About.com, my two most comfortable ways of standing are likely giving off the wrong impression:

  • Crossed arms might indicate that a person is feeling defensive, self-protective or closed-off.
  • Standing with hands placed on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready and in control, or it can also possibly be a sign of aggressiveness.

For me, typically it’s a matter of comfort or warmth. In situations like networking or meeting new people, I feel awkward standing with my arms dangling at my side (and I am almost always cold) so crossing them or putting them on my hips is most comfortable. Honestly, I didn’t think there was anything else to it but it sounds like people may perceive me to be defensive, closed-off, and even aggressive – oops. Not great impressions to make when networking.

And then there is the handshake. This one probably sets up our first impression and a weak or overtly strong handshake can make or break it. I have always prided myself on having a great handshake. My hand held vertical and neutral, with a firm yet not “break your hand” squeeze, and I always follow through with lots of sincere eye contact. When someone reciprocates with a tea-cup or a bone crusher, I just want to scream, sit them down, and teach them how to do it right. Major pet peeve. It totally gives a terrible impression of them either being weak and passive or arrogant and controlling.

Check out this video on the ten types of handshakes out there with instructions on how to get it just right:

On wedding ring twirling, I found out my friend may have actually interpreted him correctly. Patti Wood, a body language expert, wrote on her blog that if a person twists their wedding ring as they are talking to you it typically means they are attracted to you and they are aware of the bond they are under and have a desire to ignore that bond.

Interesting. Here on out, I will certainly make sure I am not twirling mine inadvertently.

I do think there is some truth to body language and non-verbal cues. I can see how a basic understanding of do’s and don’ts would be useful to ensure that my non-verbal cues match my verbal ones and my intentions; especially in professional or networking situations where I may not have the opportunity to fully impart my “winning” personality! I want to ensure that people are left with the right impression.

How aware are you of what your body language is saying? Ever been misconceived by your body language?

Negative thinking: is it just a bad habit?

When you face a life struggle such as a divorce or a job loss, how do you interpret it? Do you see it as just another kick in the face, typical bad luck; a “what’s meant to be will be” situation; or do seek the “opportunity” in everything?

Are you a naturally positive or negative person? Do you think this is something you can control, or is it something that happens to you by chance? Do you think it affects your overall happiness level?

Recently, I read in a magazine that experts say that being an overall negative or positive person is a habit and the more you practice one or the other, the more it perpetuates. Bad things happen; we all experience tough times and how we choose to view a situation can play a key role in our overall level of happiness in our life.

My experience

For about 10 years, the traumatizing effects of the accidental death of my father at 16 years old played a detrimental role in how I viewed life and impacted my overall happiness factor. For years, I had no faith or trust in life and I was convinced everyone I loved was going to die. I was emotionally crippled by a fear of abandonment. I lived life waiting for the other shoe to drop; waiting for the next loved one to be ripped away from me. These deep seeded negative beliefs drove me to angry, destructive behaviors and choices and framed my overall view of life. It wasn’t surprising that I was immensely unhappy and unfulfilled.

As I moved into my 30s, I started evaluating my life choices as a whole and saw the patterns of how some of my core beliefs were driving me to behaviors that made me unhappy. But could a person radically alter an ingrained belief system? Was that within my control?

I started by evaluating my beliefs, breaking each one down, replacing negative and unhealthy beliefs with new, healthy, realistic beliefs. This restructuring was all about habit. I used positive affirmations to build anew. For months, I reminded myself over and over again that I was strong and able to deal with anything life brought my way, that I had gotten through losing my father, and that I could restore my trust in life.

Slowly but surely, my faith in life returned, my capacity to love opened up, and my life changed and happiness started to fill my spirit. As I consciously altered my inner world, my outer world began to change; quite dramatically.

How has positive or negative thinking affected your life? Do you think being a primarily positive or negative person is something within your control?

Dear blog…the healing journey discussion

In May, I wrote a post about making the decision that I was healthy and how that was a key moment in my journey to attain self-worth and love. My Mom, who subscribes to my blog (bless her heart), works for a local non-profit counselling organization and after reading that post, she asked me if I would lead an informal lunch-time discussion about it entitled “the healing journey.” To advertise it, she wrote an editorial in our local newspaper with a few details from my post.

I was touched and honored and extremely nervous. It took place Monday and when I arrived, I was a bit surprised by the demographics of the group. We had 10 people covering the ages from around 15 to 80 and everything in between. I guess the quest to heal knows no boundaries and I was instantly engaged and captivated by the group.

It was a wonderful opportunity (thanks Mom!). In sharing my story to open the discussion, others were able to open up about and share about themselves. It never ceases to amaze me how common all of our struggles are. I think we all believe we are alone or that no one would understand when in reality, I think we’d be shocked and surprised to know how many people, even those closest to us, feel the same way.

When I do these types of presentations, that is the greatest gift I think I pass along. It’s like a collective sigh of relief goes around the table as people realize “I am normal…I am not alone…she went through that to?!?!” And then the most amazing thing happens; strangers open up to one another in ways they normally wouldn’t (not even to their best friends or family) and they share…intimately, exposing their inner most fears and thoughts. And a group of total strangers bonds together and learns from each other.

It’s a most beautiful thing.

Ever opened yourself up to a group of strangers before? How did it feel? Why do you think you were able to?

Fear…the other nasty, four letter word

For the past couple of weeks, one my beautiful best friends and I have been having an ongoing conversation about fear and how it can wreak havoc in your life and hold you back from getting what you really want.

For her, right now it’s a job she hates but gives her too many of the things she needs and wants. It’s a means to an end. Regardless, she’s terrified to leave the safety net she’s built. She’s scared to take a risk and a leap of faith to see if there’s something better out there. And, to complicate things, she doesn’t even know what job she would be happy doing. Fear is holding her back from doing what is required to be happy and it’s leaving her with distaste in her mouth and resentment in her soul.

For another gorgeous friend of mine, it’s the fear of being alone. Recently out of a long-term relationship, being alone is turning her emotions upside down. She’s in a panicked search for someone to fill the void; serial dating and having flings that leave her high on emotional comfort for a moment in time but over the long-term, leave her empty and longing for something more. Fear is leaving her desperate and emotionally overloaded.

For me, my dream is to be an outrageously successful author and I am afraid I just don’t have what it takes. I am terrified I am not a good enough writer, that I won’t be able to commit and see the project through to the end, and/or that my book idea will be a huge flop. Plus, this has always been my “ultimate” plan so if this falls through, then what? Fear is shutting down my creativity and debilitating me with writer’s block.

Fear…the other nasty four letter word. It holds us back from going after what we really want in life whether it’s in our career, our love life, or our dreams. It’s a paralyzing emotion that tweaks at our deepest insecurities and exploits them making them feel larger than life and overwhelming.

So how do we confront our fears and overcome them?

My take on it: in short (and kind of corny), we need to face them head on and never look back; grab the bull by the horns and hold on for the ride.

For my friend who hates her job, I suggested she start creating her “dream” job by reading job advertisements and pulling out titles and responsibilities/tasks that make her heart sing and that she thinks sound fun; to set a date by which she needs to have another job; and to start applying and interviewing for jobs immediately – even if she doesn’t take one right away. Lucky for her, she recently took a one-day workshop on finding and creating dreams that got her mojo going; it inspired her and fired her up! She’s armed and dangerous – fear should watch out!

For my friend who’s aching for true love to fill her up and make her spirits rise, I encouraged her to face her fear and to purposely choose to stay alone; to find love within herself; to become enthralled with her own inner beauty and awesomeness…so she could share that with a partner rather than trying to fill herself up by him. And so that she could trust herself explicitly that she’d always drop a douche bag in lieu of settling. When a woman is held hostage by the fear of being alone, she will often choose the relationship (however lacking it is) over her own happiness and ultimate relationship dreams. And there’s nothing worse than watching a friend you love and admire get used and abused by a rotten partner. Choosing to be alone and focus on building her own self-love is not an easy thing for her (or any woman) but she’s gone out and met a few new gal pals that are helping her through the emotional rollercoaster – so fear better look out!

So what advice would I give to myself? To sit down and start writing. To let go of the hopes and plans for the outcome; to just start writing for the sheer love it. To face my fear head on and to trust that in following my dream and passion, success that I can’t even begin to imagine will follow. So…I got me a new notepad stashed by the bedside – fear best run, I got me a great pen!

What fears have paralyzed you in your life and how have you overcome them?  

Assertiveness – it ain’t always easy…

Today I read a column my mother drafted for our local newspaper on assertiveness. She wrote about how as a young woman, she didn’t understand assertiveness. She dealt with her husband and her children by being aggressive, yelling, screaming, and bullying. She was convinced it was the only way we would listen and cooperate. With her friends and extended family, she wasn’t honest about what she thought, felt, and wanted from them because she was scared that they wouldn’t like her or want to be in relationship with her. She justified her behavior by believing she had no other choice.

She was introduced to the concept of assertiveness when she took a program offered by a community agency. She soon realized that the skills she was learning were going to take time and effort to become comfortable and be implemented in her relationships. At first, they felt foreign and weird. But she could clearly see that the approach was much more respectful than the way she had been communicating and it felt intuitively right for her. The more she practiced these new assertive skills she was learning, the better she felt about herself, and the better she got along with others, and the easier it became.

That course opened the door to a new life and passion for her. She was so impressed with the positive changes in herself and her life that she wanted to share that kind of program with others. She began taking university courses, reading self-help books, and taking related workshops on a variety of relationship dynamics. And, over time, and with influences from a wide variety of perspectives, she developed an assertiveness training program (along with many others) that she now facilitates. 

I clearly remember those days of transition for my mother. I was about 13 years old when slowly but surely, I watched my mother quite literally transform herself from a physically abusive, angry, hostile bully into an assertive, calm, and loving woman and mother.

Looking back, and with the perspective of my own life experience, I am filled with admiration and “awe” of the work, determination, and sheer grit it must have taken to reinvent and transform herself at that magnitude.

Reading the column brought me to pause and evaluate my own assertiveness – am I happy with how assertive I am or do I think I could improve?

Assertiveness isn’t just about being upfront with what you think. It is particularly understood in terms expression; the ability to tell others our thoughts and feelings and ask for what we want openly and directly. And, an equally important aspect of assertiveness is listening in such a way that the other person feels heard, valued, and understood.

In my interpersonal relationships (close friends and immediate family), I pride myself on being someone who “tells it like it is” and in a respectful manner. I try to be honest and forthcoming about who I am, what I think, and what I want from people. I try hard to not beat around the bush, be obtuse, or unclear. I am quite certain I don’t always succeed but I feel very confident and proud of my efforts. I know that in being assertive, I feel strong, confident, and empowered.

That being said, there are definitely small pockets of friends and family that I don’t feel as comfortable being my “honest” self with. Those relationships often leave me feeling weak, drained, resentful, and angry – at myself for being such a rug and push over.

At my work, I am the queen of “people pleasing” and saying yes, often to my own dismay. I have an exceptional work ethic and am quite competent – that coupled with my inability to appropriately assert myself in this venue often leads to added unnecessary stress, an overwhelming workload (some of which shouldn’t even be mine to start with), and a feeling of being taken for granted. But I am not in the dark; I know who the problem is – she looks back at me in the mirror every single morning.

Maybe it’s time for me to take my mother’s course again and practice applying the techniques to transform and reinvent my work self.

In my personal life, maybe it’s time to evaluate the importance/value of those “draining” relationships in my life and ask myself if I want them to remain a part of my life. If the answer is yes, I definitely need to start practicing being more assertive.

How about you – how do you succeed at being assertive in your life?

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